Open positions

PhD position in Environmental Chemistry/Environmental Microbiology

We are inviting applications for a PhD position in the groups of Environmental Chemistry (Prof. K. McNeill and Dr. Sander) at ETH Zurich and the group of Environmental Microbiology (Dr. Kohler) at Eawag.

Brief project description

Environmental fate of synthetic organic polymers

Synthetic organic polymers may be used in agricultural practices to improve soil structure, to increase the water holding capacity of soils and, if designed as agrochemical delivery systems, to combat plant pests, including viruses and insects. The use of polymers in agricultural production is expected to largely increase in the future. The anticipated increased application of polymers warrants careful investigations on the fate of the applied polymers on and in agricultural soils. As of yet, however, the fate of synthetic organic polymers in and on soils is poorly investigated. The PhD project aims at overcoming existing knowledge deficits by systematically investigating the long-term stability of polymers in soils and model systems as a function of both intrinsic polymer properties (i.e., the physicochemical properties of the polymer) and environmental factors, including microbial and enzymatic activity, soil chemistry, water content, temperature, and light. Polymer stability will be studied on several levels, including complete mineralization to CO2, breakdown into oligomers and monomers, as well as chemical modifications of the bulk polymer. The PhD student will have access to state-of-the art spectroscopic techniques (e.g., cavity ring down spectroscopy and NMR) and trace analytics of macromolecules (e.g., size exclusion chromatography coupled to high resolution mass spectrometry). The project will advance the mechanistic understanding of polymer transformation in soils, and will improve our ability to assess the long-term stability and fate of organic polymers in soils.

Application details

We are looking for highly motivated candidates that should hold a MSc or Diploma degree (or equivalent) in environmental sciences, microbiology, geoecology, chemistry, or a related field. Good knowledge of English (spoken and written) is essential. Employment will be according to standard regulations at ETHZ (funding secured for 3 years). The project will start in Spring 2013 or as soon as possible thereafter. Applicants should submit a curriculum vitae, a brief statement of research interests (1-2 pages), copies of university certificates, contact information of 2-3 potential referees, and a short (1- 2 pages) summary of their master thesis if already completed. These documents should be submitted as a single pdf file to Dr. Michael Sander ( For further details please contact Dr. Michael Sander by mail or phone ((0041)-(0)44 632 8314). Evaluation of applicants will start 15.2.2013 and continue until the position is filled.

Other Positions

Postdoctoral positions

There are no current openings.  Nevertheless, if you are interested in pursuing a postdoctoral position in the Environmental Chemistry group, please feel free to send a CV and cover letter to either Kris McNeill or Michael Sander.  It is common to begin the process 12 months before finishing the PhD. 

PhD positions

We are happy to receive pre-applications from excellent candidates at any time, which include a statement of interest and a CV.  Such pre-applications are helpful in the event that a position becomes available at short notice. Please contact either Kris McNeill or Michael Sander.

Master thesis and Hilfswissenschaftler/in positions

We have an ongoing need for smart and motivated students who are interested in pursuing a project as an assistant researcher or as part of a Master thesis.  If you are interested in such a position, please contact either Kris McNeill or Michael Sander.


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